Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reflections on 2014

2014 was the best year of my life because it was the year of my first long distance backpacking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail.  The first three months of the year focused on preparing for the PCT.  My hike encompassed six months including the 10 weeks in the middle when I recovered from a stress fracture of my foot.  Since getting off the trail, I’ve traveled and backpacked, spent time with family and friends, and tried to figure out what I’m going to do next. 
Starting the PCT at the Mexican border on April 9th, 2014.
There are two big reasons 2014 was such an awesome year.  First, I got to experience what it is like to “live your dream.”  Hiking the PCT had been a long-time dream.  Backpacking has been my passion in life: I’d been going out every weekend for years, leading backpacking trips and teaching backpacking skills to others, and writing about backpacking here on my blog.  When asked what I believed in, my answer was “getting outdoors and backpacking.”  My ex told me that I loved the Trail more than her when we broke up.  Everyone has their own reasons for embarking on a long-distance hike- some are taking a break or transitioning in life, others are escaping something in their past.  For me, there were many reasons and hiking the PCT always felt like I was finally doing what I most wanted to do, that I was moving towards my passions.  By hiking the PCT, I got to live my dream.
My last day at Castle Craigs/ I-5, after I hiked 1500 miles of the PCT.
It is so easy to put your dreams on hold, to write a bucket list and then keep on going with your regular life, never taking the steps to make your dreams a reality.  There are many good reasons to put off one’s dream until circumstances are different.  I’ve wondered about all the things in life I’ve missed out on to pursue my dream- not having kids or a house, relationships, my scientific career.  There’s no way to know if pursuing my dream was worth all the sacrifices.  But what I do know is that it felt incredible to be doing what I most wanted to do in life. 
Watching the moon rise on the PCT. Photo by Susan.
My heart swelled with joy to wake up every morning on the PCT.  I was so appreciative of every moment, thinking constantly “I’m living the dream.”  Even when I was experiencing pain, fear, despair, extreme discomfort— all of that was OK because I was exactly where I most wanted to be, doing what I believed in. I felt such purpose and meaning.  If I had won the lottery, I knew I would change nothing because I had won already by being on the trail. 
Waking up on the PCT.
Living like that changed me in ways that are hard to describe. I realized I could do anything if I put my mind to it and believed in it with all my heart.

The other reason 2014 was so incredible was because of the friendships I made on the trail, because of the support of my friends and family “back home”, and because of the trail community.  The connections I made were powerful and indescribably wonderful.   Unexpected connections with people happened exactly when I needed them.  So many friends and family supported my hike and gave me so much love.  Comments on my blog made me feel like people cared and that I could share the joy of my experience with others.  I felt the warmth and kindness of community that was beyond anything I’d ever imagined.

The reason this was profound was because when you are the recipient of so much kindness, it becomes clear how much basic human goodness is out there.  Realizing this made me see beyond superficial differences and things that keep us apart.  It made me believe in our common humanity.   It made me feel like I belonged in a deep and meaningful way.
Feeling like I truly belong.
Beyond these two things, I learned so much this year and I know that hiking the PCT will continue to influence my life in more ways that I know.  I’m grateful for this year and for everyone that made it possible.


  1. Hey Joan,
    I'm one of those that has really enjoyed following your adventures. Your writing is so descriptive, I feel like I'm there. It makes my day when you describe a place that I've actually been, like the Chattooga or the Foothills Trail.
    As good as 2014 was, my hope for you is that you'll say the same thing about 2015.
    Thank you for taking the time to share your incredible journey with us.
    Happy trails,

    1. Thanks so much, Larry, for the positive feedback! I've been work on my writing skills, so I'm glad to hear that the enthusiasm for the places I visit comes through and that I can capture some of what makes places special. One of my goals is to inspire others to visit these beautiful areas.

      Happy Trails to you too!

  2. And we are grateful for the opportunity to know you Joan! Here's to happy hiking in 2015!😄


    1. I'm so glad I got to meet you this year, FarWalker!!! And thanks for staying in touch- even though we didn't hike together much, I loved how our connection lasted as our journeys took us off the trail and then back on again. You sure helped me keep my spirits up during the stress fracture!!

      Hugs back to you and happy hiking in 2015!

  3. Well said Joan West. Your words are inspiring many.

  4. First, Thanks for your help with identifying the right hammock for my hike and for the online friendship that spawned. Second, it was so great to be able to hike with you, MeToo, and Blue Yonder out of Kennedy Meadows. And kudos for hiking back to KM with MeToo and me. No one could have faulted you for continuing North, but I think it speaks volumes about the kind of person you are and it helped the "professional me" more than you know. Should "our patient's" condition have worsened, the additional person to go for help could have made all the difference. Finally, thanks for sharing your thoughts and positive attitude with us in your very worthy Blog. -SlowBro
    P.S. - Glad to see you are using the "proper" hitchhiking technique in the second picture. :^)

  5. Meeting you was one of the highlights of my year, SlowBro! Hiking back with you all was one of the defining moments of my trip, and I'm so glad I made that decision. Thanks for all the encouragement, and for the message that "the journey is the reward!"

    Haha yes I'm just missing the sign but nearly textbook technique otherwise. :)

    Happy Trails into 2015!